Mission Bells were ringing all night long

January 4, 2018

It was no mistake we chose the hotel right next to the Mission Loreto when we explored the earliest missions in Baja California, Mexico. We wanted to get the full effect of the first mission to be built in California. It was built in 1697 in Loreto and has been restored several times.

Today, they still hold weddings almost every night, and the bells from the Mission Loreto ring every quarter of the hour. Sleeping is secondary as one thinks about the history of the people who have gathered in this mission for over 310 years, with its high-vaulted ceiling.

The walls are almost 3-feet thick, and some of the interior fixtures were brought across the Sea of Cortez by the Spanish.

Loreto is more than 650 miles south of the Mexican border, but there was obviously no border of the kind back during the Spanish Colonial Period when the Spain claimed land all over California — starting in Baja Sur and extending all the way north of San Francisco.

Loreto, and nearby San Javiar, is the home of two of the earliest missions in all of California. The second one, Mission San Javiar, 34 kilometers due east of the city, is a steep climb from the valley floor up the face of a mountain range to over 3,000 feet. Mission San Javiar gives its founding date as 1699, however, the mission was completed almost 10 years later.

The Mission San Javiar is unique because it is believed to be the first mission to ever use glass windows in its high-vaulted walls. The mission is built in the shape of a cross, and the alter is an excellent example of the gold inlay work which was traditional in the early missions. This mission was only restored with its gold inlay in the past 10 years by university students who used their summers to work on the project.

The string of missions went from Loreto heading north about a week’s walking distance from each other. We have a third mission much closer to us in Mulege, however, it dates much later, as does the one located in San Ignasio, located on an oasis about 30 miles inland.

These early missions were built by the Jesuits but the religious order went out of favor with the Spanish royalty and were evicted from the Baja California peninsula because the rulers felt the church was gaining too much power.

Mission building was carried on by other religious sects and there are dozens of these missions to be found heading north over the ridge of Baja California. Some of the missions lay in ruin, but remarkably, others have been restored at great time and expense, and survive today in relatively good condition.

Travelers in Baja California can find them on a road map, and like us, take side trips to see how and why these missions were built where they were. Most were built in an effort to bring Christ to the indigenous population, but in some cases those populations did not survive the missions which they helped to build.

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